The Ohakune Old Coach Road is the original link between the North Island main trunk railway from the north and the South.
By the beginning of the twentieth century progress on completing the main trunk railway was slow with three huge viaducts being required to complete the railway line from Raurimu to Ohakune. Subsequently work begun in 1906 to upgrade an existing bridle track creating a 39km road to link the rail heads at Turangarere in the South and Raurimu in the North via horse and carriage to carry travelling traffic and most importantly the engineering staff charged with completing the railway. The track was widened and paved using setts – rectangular pieces of stone with a convex top.
By late 1906 the first coaches ran the four hours to connect with the trains. In February 1908 a reporter from The Wanganui Herald took the rail-coach-rail trip from Wellington to Auckland and wrote this description of the journey from Ohakune to Horopito.
Quite an imposing array of vehicles – about nine in number – awaits the passengers, who can step off the train on to the wooden platform improvised from fallen logs, and board the coach without getting to the ground. It is a strange sight this, the train run right in amongst the trees … and the collection of coaches in the heart of the bush. The overland route affords sights which will not be available when the train tears through from Auckland to Wellington in 20 hours.
About a dozen board our coach, and with five good horses – three in the lead – we are soon rattling along over a good service road which is metaled from quarries situated at convenient spots along the route. … We reach a little bush settlement called Te Raungakapu, where mail is delivered and the passengers regale themselves with hop beer. The railway line is crossed at this spot by the road which afterwards climbs up a thickly wooded hill, winding in and out to negotiate the hill, winding in and out to negotiate the gullies. A way down below – 300 feet, the driver will tell you – is the railway track, itself more than 2600 feet above the sea, so that the road just here must be nearly 3000 feet high. The line is crossed again at Taonui Viaduct, which is already planked and railed, and waiting the rail connection either side. Passengers are invited to walk across the viaduct and some of the more adventurous spirits do so while the coach winds around the road underneath. Its about 100 feet high and is built on a distinct curve, but the iron and wire railing gives one a sense of security. (The Wanganui Herald 15 February 1908)
By 1909 it was all over - the main trunk line was completed in November 1908 and the first train to run direct from Wellington to Auckland departed 15th February 1909. Today the Old Coach Road Cycle Trail represents a significant part of New Zealand's rail heritage and apart from some natural wear and tear from weather the trail feels like it has been frozen in time the original pavers still being in existence.
The trail follows the old bridle route with some some slight deviations added through stunning native bush. The trail climbs steadily but is absolutely ideal for all levels of cyclists and families if enough time is taken. It heads uphill from Ohakune to Horopito - rising 135 meters over the 9 kilometers. The highlight of the trail is the 284 meter wide - 45 meter high Hapuawhenua Viaduct which ceased it's rail duties on the North Island main trunk rail line in 1987. It is a spectacular piece of New Zealand's railway engineering history.
Along the trail Department of Conservation signs display a history and photos of the main trunk line's construction.